The Quest for Good Sleep, Good Art, and a Good Cup of Coffee

Sometimes things seem too far out of reach. Last night, sleep was one of those things.

I live in a neighborhood where it seems the power goes out when a leaf drops. In the four years that I’ve lived here, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and the crazy Halloween Day Snowstorm aside, the weather in New Jersey has been relatively mild. I moved here from Pennsylvania, across the river and about an hour north at the base of the Appalachian Mountains and it was never mild. You wouldn’t think such a short distance away would change the weather all that much, but I’m sure it has something to do with living on one side of the mountains or another and in PA weather was fierce. Storms were always intense, power frequently went out. But nothing like it does here when, well, nothing happens.

“Nothing” made the power go out three times last night. For some, like my daughter, they will awake and never know anything happened. I envy that child. Me and my boys shuffled through the kitchen feeling like we’d been ripped back and forth on that Whiplash ride. I’m a notoriously bad sleeper to begin with. My poor oldest son has inherited this quality and my younger son suffers the consequences of hearing his older brother stomp around the kitchen when he’s pissed he’s not sleeping. The three of us all use fans for white noise. The fan is both a blessing and a curse. Without it, I’d have surely committed homicide on a sibling, roommate or spouse in my lifetime. But that’s exactly the problem–when the power goes out, the fan goes out. Sleep becomes unreachable.

Today is Day 6 of NaNoWriMo. Most know that this writing challenge involves daily immersion in words, at least 1,700 a day to keep up the pace to hit 50K by November 30th. Between Novembeard and NaNo, you can have some seriously bedraggled looking writers wandering out in the world this month. Throw in the lack of sleep and you better just step back. Yesterday, I hit 10K on my WIP.  Pretty significant milestone in the NaNo challenge, ahead of the word count game, 1/5th done, and well into the arc of the story. Potentially. The story was moving along relatively well, the words were obviously on the page, but it read like instructions for bicycle assembly or something. Just words, little punch. I kept telling myself–this is NaNo, it’s not about perfect art the first time through, it’s about getting the quantity of words down.

But is that really what I am about? Quantity of words?

Like sleep–quality is sometimes more important. Trust me, as a life-long sleep-challenged being, I know how great a solid hour nap can make you feel. Sometimes it’s the depth of sleep that is more important than the length. I have a close friend who never reaches REM sleep, the quality restorative sleep we all need to recover mentally, emotionally, and physically right down to the cellular level. Ten hours of sleep might as well be two hours of sleep. This is not acceptable, it’s not quality. This is how my 10K was feeling–empty.

People say: Don’t stop and go back when you’re in NaNo!  (This is beginning to sound like a sci-fi novel)  But I couldn’t go forward. The depth of my story was unattainable and to keep writing at that surface level would have just meant a month of emptiness. Like a month of bad sleep. It would hang on my shoulders, nagging me to please fix it or at least try! And the thing is I knew what had to be done: a simple change of POV. All the writers out there are laughing at me.

Simple. Ha.

Nothing in the art world is simple. Nothing in my sleep world is simple. Nothing in life is particularly simple–except when you go with your gut instinct, it no longer matters. Difficult becomes easier. Unreachable becomes possible. Change, on any level, is not for cowards.

So, I started changing the manuscript I’d so diligently punched out over the last week without looking back. Now I’m looking back. And it’s going to slow my word count a bit for a couple days, but suddenly my protagonist has a voice, my story has energy and depth. It doesn’t feel empty anymore; it found its purpose. It’s not perfect and it will require revisions as all stories do, but my feeling about it has changed. The story is no longer unreachable.

That’s more I can say about sleep, but hey, 1 out of 2 ain’t bad.

However, the power is back on. I have a few hours to work before I go to my day-job. And the coffee is brewing: one hot cup of motivation at a time.

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